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Do Nothin' Till You Hear from Me (1943)

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Origin and Chart Information
“considered by many as one of the high points, perhaps even a masterpiece, of Duke Ellington’s body of work.”

- JW

Rank 93
Music Duke Ellington
Lyrics Bob Russell

In 1943 Duke Ellington and His Orchestra introduced “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear from Me” with featured vocalist Al Hibbler. The record became a best-selling rhythm and blues hit and appeared on the R&B charts in early 1944, climbing all the way to number one where it would stay for eight weeks.


More on Al Hibbler at JazzBiographies.com

Within months of its original release, the song would be covered by Woody Herman and His Orchestra, The Delta Rhythm Boys, Billie Holiday, and Stan Kenton and His Orchestra. It successfully crossed over as a pop song, appearing on the pop charts by:

  • Woody Herman and His Orchestra (1944, Woody Herman, vocal, #7)
  • Duke Ellington and His Orchestra (1944, Al Hibbler, vocal, #10)
  • Stan Kenton and His Orchestra (1944, Red Dorris, vocal, #10)

Chart information used by permission from
Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954

“Do Nothin’ Till You Hear from Me” is considered by many as one of the high points, perhaps even a masterpiece, of Duke Ellington’s body of work. The song was created when Bob Russell fitted lyrics to the predominant theme of the 1940 Duke Ellington composition “Concerto for Cootie.” (It is important to note that “Concerto for Cootie” is a different composition from Ellington’s 1935 “Cootie’s Concerto,” which was later known as “Echoes of Harlem”).


More on Duke Ellington at JazzBiographies.com

More on Bob Russell at JazzBiographies.com

In The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America’s Great Lyricists, Philip Furia praises Russell’s ability to coax genuine sentiment out of an Ellington melody and calls “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear from Me” “probably the slangiest pledge of romantic fidelity ever written.”

As the song’s original title claims, “Concerto for Cootie” is indeed a concerto, possessing both similarities and differences with other concertos. A concerto often highlights a soloist or group of soloists and is usually in symphonic form with three movements. Ellington’s concerto differs in that it has only one movement, but like other concertos it specifically showcases a soloist, in this case trumpeter Cootie Williams. Williams was at the pinnacle of his career and had developed his technique and style to the point that he was able to express an unprecedented range of emotional moods.

Strangely enough, the transition from the instrumental “Concerto for Cootie” to the vocalized “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear from Me” was precipitated by the president of the American Federation of Musicians. In August, 1942, he called for a recording ban, demanding that studios pay royalties instead of flat fees for nearly all recordings by AFM member musicians and orchestras. While the ban only lasted a little over a year, it contributed greatly to the demise of the Big Band Era. While the large orchestras suffered, vocalists (who were less likely to be AFM members) flourished. Since less music was being written, the studios were forced to become more creative with their existing resources. Old recordings were re-released, and studios mined their catalogs for instrumentals they could transform into vocal hits, using salaried studio musicians rather than big name bands. This led Bob Russell to write the lyrics for Ellington’s 1940 “Never No Lament” and “Concerto for Cootie,” resulting in “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear from Me,” respectively.

More information on this tune...

John Edward Hasse
Beyond Category: The Life and Genius of Duke Ellington
Da Capo Press; 1st Da Capo Press ed edition
Paperback: 479 pages

(Musician/educator/producer Hasse tells the history of the song.)

Randy Halberstadt (Author)
Metaphors for the Musician: Perspectives from a Jazz Pianist
Sheer Music Co

(Pianist/educator Halberstadt analyzes the musical content.)

- Jeremy Wilson

Recommendations for This Tune
Click on any CD for more details at Amazon.com
Duke Ellington
Never No Lament the Blanton-Webster Band

This compilation includes the brilliant original recording of “Concerto for Cootie,” the instrumental piece that, upon the adding of lyrics, provided the basis for “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me.” The arrangement is lush and intricate, and Cootie Williams shines on trumpet both with and without a mute.
Charles Mingus
1999 Polygram 538636
Original recording 1960
Charles Mingus dips into the Ellington songbook, but comes up with an arrangement that is bright in tempo and full of surprises. Numerous great saxophonists passed through his band, and sometimes several of them overlapped. This performance documents one such point in time, as the arrangement revolves around an incendiary tenor saxophone battle featuring Booker Ervin, Joe Farrell and Yusef Lateef.

- Noah Baerman

Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington - Greatest Hits [Columbia/Legacy]
Original recording 1947
The definitive rendition of the song, featuring vocalist Al Hibbler, is on this compilation.
Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington
The Great Summit: The Master Takes
Blue Note Records
Original recording 1961
Two heavyweights of jazz join forces for the first and only time in their careers. The song takes on a very bluesy feel as Armstrong interprets the Ellington classic with the composer himself.
Nina Simone
Sings Duke Ellington: At Carnegie Hall
2000, Collectables
Original recording, 1962
The one and only, the inimitable, Nina Simone, shows all of her complex colors in this performance, singing and swinging “Do Nothin’....
Wynton Kelly
Kelly Blue
1991 Original Jazz Classics 033
Original recording 1959
This swinging performance features pianist Kelly with his longtime trio with bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb. Kelly and Chambers engage in a tuned-in dialogue, and each of them takes a great solo.
Steve Turre
In the Spur of the Moment
2000, Telarc

Trombonist Turre trades licks with pianist Stephen Scott in a rousing Ellington medley that includes “Five O’clock Drag.” Turre and his instrument, with its slides and growls, are well-suited to the song.
Ellis Marsalis
Duke in Blue
1999 Columbia 63631

Pianist Marsalis gives a swinging, solo performance of the tune that is equal parts reverent and visionary.

- Ben Maycock

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